Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Celebrating Milestones

Think back to when your kids were little... for some of you these things are happening right now, some of you might have to think back a bit!  If you don't have kids, you can think back to your own childhood, but I am going to write it with the perspective of having kids. 

As a family we naturally celebrate milestones in our kids lives.  When they first smile, first roll over, first sit up.  We smile and encourage them... we tell other people about it... it is a big deal!

When your child gets older they come running to you when new things happen... "Mommy, Mommy look what I can do!"  Or "Mommy, Mommy I have a loose tooth!"  Again, we celebrate these things, we make a big deal out of it.  The child feel celebrated, loved and valued. 

We had one of these milestones happen in our house yesterday.  Mila lost a tooth.  This was actually her second tooth to come out (the first one happened a week or so before we got her... darn!).  I knew her tooth was loose, but when I checked it just a few days ago it wasn't anywhere near ready to come out. 

So you can imagine my surprise yesterday when she smiled at me and I noticed she had a hole in her mouth!  "Mila!" I said, "Where is your tooth?"  She very casually told me that she pulled it our during her nap time, which had been about an hour earlier.  She was so casual about it that she didn't even know where her tooth was... yes, which means I have a random tooth lurking about my house.  She seemed surprised when I made a big deal about it coming out!  We went up to her room to search for the tooth (which we couldn't find... gross... oh well). 

I got to thinking about it last night.  These girls have never had someone make a big deal out of them.  They have never had milestones celebrated with them.  It really isn't right.  Of course, then it also made me think about the millions of other orphans who are in the same situation.  They are a big deal, these kids should be loved on, cared for and CELEBRATED!!!!!!!!! 

Cute Mila!
Some of you might be wondering if the tooth fairy came to visit last night... no.  The girls didn't mention anything about it, so we figured they didn't know about that.  It would have been too hard to try to describe what it was, and we decided it really didn't matter.  They are learning so many new things right now that are so much more important!  Just as we are picking an choosing our battles right now, we are picking and choosing what they need to learn about! :)  Also, my record stands... I have yet to pull a tooth out for my kids!  The thought of it makes me shudder...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

First week home

Wow... We have already been home for a full week!  That flew by!  I can't even remember where I left off and I am feeling too lazy to look at my last post, so I will just recap our flight home...

We arrived at the Latvia airport Friday morning and got in line for our airline to check in.  We couldn't auto check in because we have paperwork that needed to be shown for the girls.  So we waited a good 1/2 hour in line only to get up to the front and be told that we were in the wrong line.  Apparently we were in line for a charter flight or something, so the lady pointed us to an even longer line right next to where we were.  Grrr....  So, we went and stood in that line for another 1/2 hour - 45 minutes.  Everything went fine from there, they checked us in, took our bags and we found our way to the gate.  We still had a little bit of time, so I went and found some coffee  (I hadn't had any yet because we had run out at the apartment!).  We boarded the plane and found our seats.  Jon and Mila were sitting in the row right behind Vika and I.  This was only a 2 hour flight (if that).  Everything went pretty smooth... Mila did start crying for some reason at one point, but Jon was able to calm her down.  I pulled out Angry Birds the last 1/2 hour of the flight for Vika and I to play, again thanking God for technology!

Once in the Amsterdam airport we had about 4 hours to kill before our flight to Atlanta.  We ate lunch and then found the free playground and let the girls run around and play (secretly hoping they would tire themselves out before the 10 hour flight!).  When it was time, we found our gate and were the second ones in line to board the plane (score!)... only to have the girls passports be rejected by the scanner as they were boarding us.  We were told to move to the counter so they could be checked.  I have no idea what was wrong with them (since they worked fine on the first flight!), but the KLM staff said that all the information was wrong and needed to be re entered.  This took sooooo long... they ended up having to hold the flight for us!  When we finally boarded the flight attendants were already moving people around and giving our seats away... ummm... I don't think so!  Everyone had to move back (we did get some dirty looks, but at that point I just felt like giving dirty looks right back!).  Settled into our seats, we were ready to go home!

The first part of the flight went fine, the girls colored and watched tv.  After dinner they watched more tv and started falling asleep.  The last 4 hours were pretty miserable.  They took turns waking up and crying.  I would just try to calm them and get them back to sleep.  I didn't sleep the whole flight! I was extremely happy when we landed!

So, now we have been home a week.  The girls are doing great... they are picking up English at lightning speed, it amazes me everyday!  I have started to teach them songs and the alphabet.  I have taken them out on a few errand runs and they seem to enjoy that.  They ask almost everyday when dance school is starting!  There are still power struggles, and they are still figuring out their place here, but I am encouraged at the progress I am seeing in areas!

We also have been talking a lot about family.  What a family is, and who is in our family.  They name everyone in our family, including Solomon, our dog! A few days ago after we named everyone Vika looked at me and said, "no family is no good."  I couldn't have said it better myself sweet one!  I am so thankful that God chose us to be a family to these little girls. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Homeward Bound - What to Expect

We are on our last full day here in Latvia.  Which brings me to a post that I hope you will all understand and not feel offended about.  We know there are a lot of people waiting for us to get home, and also kids who want to be friends with our girls - trust me, we want that as well!  And it will happen!

When we get home, though, we will be spending some time "cocooning" with just our family.  You might not know what that means, and that is fine... it is really a buzzword in the adoption world.  But it refers to the practice of pulling away from the outside world and focusing your time and attention on your immediate family.  It allows you to build bonds with your adopted child that will lead to a secure attachment.

So, what does this look like for us?  We won't be accepting any social invitations, going to church, or things like that as a family for the time being.  One of the big hurdles we have with these girls is teaching them that not all adults are safe.  They have been isolated and institutionalized for 5 years.  Right now, I am not even sure they know what a family is... they could just think they are going from one "grupa" (that is what they call the orphanage) to another "grupa."  For their entire lives, they've been accustomed to multiple (and changing) caregivers in the controlled environments of institutions, with all that comes with that.

While they need to learn that not every adult is another potential caregiver for them, they also need to fully realize and trust that Jon and I will be the ones taking care of them and being here for them always.  They can't learn that if they feel like they're around other mommies and daddies who are available to hold their hands, pick them up, or love on them.  Right now, that just needs to come from us.  So if we are out and run into you, and one of the girls wants to hold your hand or hug you, please don't.  Please, also don't be offended if for some reason they do get a hold of you and we take them away.  We mean no offense whatsoever to you!!!

We will really need to see some milestones happen with them as we begin going out in public.  They need to be able to seek our advice and guidance before going to strangers.  The behavior of institutionalized children "charming" strangers is pretty common - where children may tend to act overly happy, silly, or show off in some way to get an adult's attention.  Whether they realize it or not, they are constantly "parent-shopping"... and these two girls now have parents.

You may think that we are being overprotective of the girls.  In reality, though, these girls have never been taught or protected in the ideal and unique way that a healthy parent/child relationship can.  We've researched the issues involved in adopting older children (yes, they are considered older children) and believe wholeheartedly that this approach is best for our girls to grow into full health and wholeness.  We do want to welcome any questions you might have, so please feel free to let us know if you'd like to talk and we can figure out a good time to do that.

How long will this all last?  We don't know... we are just going to have to rely on God and see how the girls react to/in different situations.  We will be out and about... we have two boys who have activities!  We will be at football and soccer practices and games.  We have to figure out how to do a "normal" life while not overwhelming the girls, and build the strong bonds that our boys have had the luxury of having since birth.  This, of course, is all by God's amazing grace.

Please continue to pray for our whole family during this time.  Jon, the girls, and I have had some great bonding time here in Latvia, which Jon and I are both thankful for.  But, it's also been in an artificial and temporary environment, and I know things are going to look a LOT different once we get back home.  Pray for the girls - that they would blossom under our guidance and become the women that God wants them to be.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Latvia day 17 - U.S. Embassy... What Was I Worried About?

Okay, so I have been soooooo worried about this embassy meeting, and once again realized I wasted all that energy worrying over nothing.  I think I pictured it kinda like I pictured the court hearing - very formal and us trying to explain why we don't make a lot of money, but are confident that we can provide for these girls (which we can, with God's help!).  I came prepared with a copy of our home study, income records, I-800A approvals... I was ready for anything!

We walked into a small building and had to go through a metal detector, leave our cell phones there, and then walk to another building and go through another metal detector.  Something on me set off the second metal detector, but nobody did anything about it... okay...  Then we sat and waited for our number to be called.  While we were waiting we got to watch a... uhh... "lovely" movie on American tourism, diversity, opportunity, etc., over and over (oh the joys...).  The other family we were there with got called up before we were.  And it only took them a few minutes... hmmm... not what I was expecting.

When we were called we took the girls up to the counter where there was glass between the lady and us.  She asked the girls which one of them was which and then basically just needed Jon and I to answer a few questions.  She had to make sure we realized that the girls are still legal wards of the Latvian court system and that they will be traveling to the U.S. on a 7-month non-immigrant visa.  They cannot be enrolled in school and we need to have them back in Latvia by March 8th.  She made sure we knew that this (us being able to take the girls back to the States with us before they're legally adopted) was only able to happen because of the special arrangement that Latvia and the U.S. have with the hosting program.  So, yes, we agreed to all of that.  Our plan is to be back in Latvia sometime in February to have this all completed.  Jon will be back before that by himself for one more court date.  Then, on the last trip, the four of us will be meeting with the embassy again - at that point when the girls return to the U.S. they will enter as American citizens.

So, tomorrow our lawyer is going back to the embassy to pick up the girls' passports with the visas in them and then bring them to us.  We started packing up tonight - the girls were pretty excited to see the suitcases come out!  We leave Friday morning and will return to the States by Friday night.  My heart is a little sad for these girls to be leaving their country.  But, I also know they have no future here.  Kids age out of the orphanage system at 16.  16 years old and they are out on their own.  I was reading an online article yesterday that said drug use has climbed 600% in Latvia since the fall of communism.  One group particularly at risk in Latvia is orphans who have aged out of the system.  They turn to drugs (and prostitution, according to other articles I've read) to escape the pain and rejection they have been through.  I am so thankful that is not the future our girls will have.  God had them born here for a reason, and I sure hope that whoever their birth parents are will know God's love at some point, and somehow know that we will take care of their girls.  Maybe they can be reunited in Heaven someday...

I woke up this morning to a bunch of comments on Facebook, about a status I put up yesterday, that blew me away.  I mentioned that I wasn't looking forward to jumping back into scheduled life.  In response, we had families offer to mow our yard, bring us dinner this weekend, and go grocery shopping for us.  It brought me to tears... we are so blessed to be in such a loving community of people who really are the hands and feet of Jesus.  Thank you (you all know who you are) - we really are humbled and appreciate the help.  God is so good to us, and I only hope that I am as willing when I see needs arise around me for others.

Two more sleeps: America!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Latvia day 16 - Orphan Court... Check!

Exciting day here in Latvia!  We had our second orphan court hearing.  We had two petitions before the court: the first one was for the court to decide if it was in the best interest for the girls to be adopted by our family, and the second was to extend our care and supervision time and let us take the girls back to America as we finish up the adoption.  Kind of big decisions!

We went to the same building that our first court hearing was in a few weeks ago.  Again it was a conference room with three "judges."  They might really be judges - I have no idea.  They were all women again, but three different ones than whom we sat in front of last time.  They (really only the middle judge) asked us what we had been doing during our time in Latvia, how the girls were behaving, if there were any health issues, and stuff like that.  They asked their primary social worker from their orphanage if he thought it was in the best interest of the girls to be adopted into our family.  He said it absolutely was, and mentioned that the girls were completely different when they returned to Latvia from the month they spent with us in the winter.  He said they came back much more confident and happier, and that when they were finally told that we were coming to get them, the girls never had any doubts about going with us or considering us their parents.  It was so good to hear!  You just know that God does something in everyone's hearts to have that happen!

We were then asked to leave the courtroom while the judges discussed what they had heard.  When we came back in they said that, yes, they found that it was in the best interests of the girls to be adopted by our family!  Yeah!  Then we had to get to the part about extending the care and supervision time and letting them come home with us. 

You see, most countries you adopt from you don't get to take the kids home until the adoption is finalized.  So, normally we would be taking the girls back to the orphanage, going home, completing more paperwork, and then returning for the girls.  I can't even imagine taking them back to the orphanage at this point... it would set so many things back that we have been working on!  But, thankfully since Latvia already has this hosting program in place, we are able to "host" them until the adoption is finalized!  Thank you, God! 

Okay, back to court... they asked us more questions about what we have in place for the girls at home, why we want to continue this from home, and so on...  We explained that our two boys are in the United States, as is our home and our jobs.  They also asked if we had sufficient health care for the girls in the States.  They seemed satisfied with our answers and - making the decision in the courtroom (so we didn't have to step outside again) - said that, yes, we were granted permission to take the girls to the United States and finish the adoption from there!  Yeah!!!!!  Such a relief to have all that out of the way!  In a few months when Jon has to travel back here, he will have to take part in one more court hearing. 

Tomorrow we have a meeting with the U.S. embassy.  This meeting actually is the one that is making me the most nervous.  If our income comes up (which I am sure it will), I just hope that there won't be any problems.  I can't imagine that God would lead us this far only to have it all fall apart now.  We have been granted our approval for the I-800A, which is from our government saying we are allowed to bring three orphans into the country.  Our income had to be approved at that point as well... I guess I just have a general distrust of our government, that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.  So, please pray for this meeting tomorrow afternoon - pray for peace inside of me, and continue to pray for the girls! 

We will pull out the suitcases tomorrow and start packing up... Three more sleeps and we will be headed home!

Waiting in anticipation for the judges' verdict!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Latvia day 15 - "4 More Days: America!"

Yesterday was our last "free" day.  We took full advantage of it!  The girls actually slept until 10:00 am!  I have no idea why, but Jon and I didn't complain about getting to sleep in a bit as well!  We had a very slow morning, short naps after lunch (not that these were needed with sleeping until 10:00 am, but it was more to stay with a routine), and then we hung out in a park for the afternoon with the other American family that is here adopting.  The girls had fun with the kids, and Jon and I enjoyed conversation with adults!  It was a win-win!  By the time we left the park it was dinnertime.  We had already decided to eat out, so we went back to Lido's and, again, ate too much... but man, it was good!  Once we walked back to the apartment it was time for baths and a little watching of the Olympics before bed.

After the girls were in bed we got a phone call from our lawyer.  She asked us how our weekend had been and, somewhat apologetically, said that she needed to ask each of us personally a question: at this point did we still want to continue with the adoption of the girls?  Umm... yes!  Our lawyer told us that she knew it felt a bit silly, but legally she had to confirm it at this point in time.

This morning I had to wake the girls up early.  They looked totally confused as to why they were being woken up (don't worry, girls - I won't make this a habit).  They had to get up, have breakfast, and we all had to be ready by 9:00 am for our final orphan court-appointed social worker visit!  Our social worker has been great.  She is easy to be around... she reminds me of a bubbly grandmother.  She didn't even stay 1/2 hour today (the other visits have been about 1 hour).  She, like our lawyer had the evening before, also asked us if we still wanted to continue with the adoption of the girls.  Again... yes!!  She smiled and said it looked like we were all emotionally attached to each other, and that she is submitting the paperwork with her recommendation that we can proceed with the adoption.  After she and our lawyer left, the four of us danced around the apartment with the girls singing, "America, America!" 

Unfortunately, I think they thought we were going to America right away.  So, we had to sit them down and explain (again) how many days we still had until we leave.  After this Milana got very moody, and I think in her disappointment with not leaving now she decided that she was going to push the limits and be disobedient.  It was over something really silly as well - I think Jon asked her not to go back to her bedroom... to stay in the living room where we could see her, and she threw a tantrum about it.  There aren't any toys in their bedroom here, so there is no reason for them to just be in there.  Plus, for now, it is easy to monitor how they are treating each other when they are in the same room we are. 

So all day at different times the girls would look at us, hold up four fingers and say (sort of), "4 more days: America?"  We have had to reassure them all day that, yes, in four days we are leaving for America.  They are a bit fixated on that at the moment.

Tomorrow afternoon we have our second orphan court appearance, and then either Jon or I will go with our lawyer back to the orphanage to pick up more medication and the girls passports.  We are not all going because I don't want the girls to ever have to go back there.  Then Wednesday we have a U.S. embassy hearing (or interview... not really sure), Thursday we get the girls' visas, and then Friday: America!  4 more days: America!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Latvia day 13 - Mother of Four

Well, a few more days have gone by.  Lots of walks around the city, going to the park, playing in the apartment...  Our days are pretty routine. 

Yesterday we thought about going to the beach.  You have to take the train and then it is a short walk.  But, the weather looked a little iffy (and it did end up raining pretty hard in the afternoon), plus we just aren't really beached-equipped.  We only have our bath towels, no sand toys, no beach umbrella... and primarily we just decided the girls are perfectly happy just going to the playground and hanging out with us.  Plus, I think I mentioned before we are on a limited budget... I am not saying that to complain, it just is what it is...

We did take the girls out to pizza last night.  It was a really far walk - right across the street from our apartment!  Ha!  We ordered a chicken Caesar salad to share (which the girls didn't like... probably the dressing) and a spicy sausage pizza (which they loved!).  I thought it was all great! 

We were the only ones in the restaurant at the time, and our waitress spoke English.  I actually think all of our waitresses have spoken English to this point!  The girls (well, Vika - who looked at the waitress and ordered a hamburger right away) started talking to our waitress in Latvian and I think it threw her for a minute!  The waitress asked Jon and I how the girls knew Latvian, so we told her it was because they are Latvian!  We explained that we were adopting them.  She was pretty interested in the process, asking how long it has taken up to this point and what was next.  Before we left she wished us all the best with the rest of the process.  It was pretty interesting to talk to someone here about it.  (By the way, we cancelled Vika's hamburger and shared a pizza instead... she still doesn't quite realize that she is not the one in charge!)

Last night Jon and I also skyped with our boys for almost an hour after the girls went to bed.  I haven't seen them in person for three weeks now.  That is probably what I find the hardest about this.  I miss them, and from the teary eyes I saw on the computer, they are missing us as well.  I can't wait to hug and kiss them!  Their willingness for us to bring more children into our family still amazes me.  When we were just going to adopt one girl, Devon kept saying we needed to adopt two girls.  Two girls about the same age so they could play together, since Ty and Dev are so much older.  Prophetic words from my little boy?  I think so...

Today we walked around the corner from our apartment and went up to the top of St. Peter's Church.  It was completely crowded at the top (you would think they would only allow a certain amount of people up there at a time) but the view was amazing!  You could look all over the colorful rooftops of Old Riga.  St. Peter's is first mentioned in records dating back to 1209.  So, it is pretty old!  I think the tower part of it has burned down a few times and it was damaged during World War II, but it is still an amazing building.

Then after naps today we walked back to the park.  While we were there we got stuck in a bit of a rain storm.  We had one umbrella with us, so we all huddled under that for the rain to pass.  The girls are so funny - they really don't like to be rained on.  I guess they will have to get used to it... how many times do I come out of a store or something in Georgia only to find it POURING down rain?!

Tonight (but earlier than last night, so the girls were still awake) we skyped with the boys again.  We told the girls about it just a few minutes before it happened.  They were totally excited!  Then when it actually happened, they just sat there quietly.  I think they were a little overwhelmed.  There was other family at Jon's parents' house right now, and of course everyone wanted to say hi to the girls and meet them!  Completely understandable, just a little overwhelming to two little five-year-old girls who have no idea who these people are (yet!). 

This is our last weekend here in Riga.  And our last few free days, as we have something related to the adoption process going on every day next week.  Six more sleeps and we will be on our way home.  Please be praying about things for when we get home.  We are basically "hosting" them until this whole process is done.  We need to figure out if we can add the girls to our insurance, because we are going to need to get Milana's medication.  Pray that there is no problem with this.  Viktorija has some medical issues as well.  We knew that she had had surgery, but we didn't find out for what until we got here - apparently she had some sort of cancer and they removed a tumor.  We still haven't heard what kind of cancer it was, but she will need to be seen in October by an oncologist.  Again, we are going to need them on our insurance to have all this happen.  So prayers would be appreciated.  I know people are probably thinking that this (the cancer) is something we should have known about before we got here, but it is what it is and we wouldn't have changed our minds about the adoption.  We serve a God who heals.  They are princesses of the Most High God, and they are our daughters.  It is still amazing to me how God could put this type of love into us for children that were not born to us.  It hit me today - I am now the mother of four children, and there are two fewer orphans in the world now.  Praise God!

From the top of St. Peter's Church. The curved-roof buildings in the picture are WWII-era German zeppelin hangars - they now house Europe's largest market and bazaar.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Latvia day 11 - Past the Halfway Point

So, I know I took yesterday off from blogging.  It turned into a very busy day, we didn't get home until late, and I just didn't feel like doing it!  Ha!

I will start with yesterday.  We had an appointment for the girls with the US embassy doctor.  The girls were measured and weighed and had their eyes checked.  When we went into the doctor's office, the girls sat up on the examination bed and the doctor talked to them and listened to their hearts. She asked the girls what language they wanted to speak with her.  Vika said Latvian (actually she told the doctor that she could understand Latvian, Russian, or English so it didn't matter - ha!) and Mila said Russian.  The doctor laughed and decided on Latvian.  Amazing that these girls are learning their third language!  I wonder how long they will hold onto Latvian with only each other still to talk to?  It will be interesting.  We also had a few questions answered by the embassy doctor, and then we were on our way. 

We spent the rest of the day at our lawyer's house.  She lives on a lake that goes out to the Daugava River.  There is a little sandy beach area there.  We didn't realize this and didn't bring the girls' swimsuits, so we did what any good parent would do... stripped the girls down to their underwear and let them play in the water!  It was private - I wouldn't have done that on any public beach.  We also took a rowboat out on the lake.  It was so peaceful and beautiful! The beach also isn't too far from her house, so we walked out there as well and put our feet in the Baltic Sea and played a game of dodge ball on the sand.  It was fun! 

We left her house at 9:00 pm, after the girls' bedtime (and they missed their nap!), so they were pretty tired.  Our taxi got us back to our apartment at about 9:45 pm.  There were some more tears when the girls went to bed, but it didn't last long (thankfully!).  Our lawyer told us that the girls are right on track with their grief - it usually hits on day 10. 

Sunday night, Monday night, and Tuesday night were all quiet here in old town Riga, but last night the music started up again outside.  I think I only slept a few hours.  I think I might have mentioned it was horribly loud all last week because there was a Russian festival going on.  Maybe I didn't mention that... I don't remember anymore.  Anyway, it was loud again last night... The girls slept in until almost 10 this morning, but I was wide awake at 8 am.  I had a nice few hours to myself (which I think I needed). 

After lunch we took a walk to a mall and then went and bought a few groceries.  The small grocery store we go to here is funny... I don't know if they are remodeling it or what, but every time we go in it is different.  Tonight I wanted to make pork chops with onions.  When we were in the store the other day they had some really nice-looking pork chops.  Tonight, the whole meat section was gone.  Not just moved, but gone.  I went to the butcher counter to see what they had, and all that was there were some chicken wings and legs.  It is weird not to have all the variety of food available to you when ever you want it!  So, I changed course and bought a bag of frozen pelmeni instead.  These look like tortellini, and they had chicken in them. 

I also bought a bag of frozen broccoli... I knew I was pushing my luck with the broccoli but I bought it anyway.  We eat a lot of broccoli, so I figured the girls (basically Mila) better get used to it now.  As soon as she saw it on the counter, she started telling me that she doesn't like it and she didn't want it.  Basically I told her she was going to need to try it.  She didn't look happy when she sat down at the table, but she ate every bit that I put on her plate.  She started dipping it in the tomato sauce we had for the pelmeni and eating it that way.  She even told Jon that it was yummy.  Ah.Maze.Ing...

Then we had baths.  The girls love it when I put conditioner in their hair.  Then they are so amazed that it doesn't hurt when I brush their hair after baths!  Simple pleasures...

When it was bedtime, Mila started getting worked up again.  Jon sat on her bed and talked to her and stroked her hair and face while I said goodnight to Vika, then I sat with Mila for a few minutes doing the same thing.  She was so tired and falling asleep, but all of a sudden she grabbed my hand, looked right at me, and said, "I love you, Mommy - no crying."  She stopped her crying, smiled, and went right to sleep.  Thank you, God.

We have free days tomorrow and Saturday, we might go to church on Sunday, and then there are appointments every day next week to get ready to leave.  Nine more days and I will have my family back together under the same roof.  So looking forward to that!

Playing in the Baltic Sea